40K Editorial: Balanced =/= Fun
So we always talk about how we want the game to be completely balanced. I dont know about you, but I would focus on fun first and foremost.
Comparing anything in wargaming is a giant exercise in comparing apples and oranges. Many will tell you that you just can’t compare unit X vs unit Y for a variety of reasons from internal codex point balance, to meta game balance, to differring design philosophies of different authors, to the state of the game at different time periods.
I however want to bring up a particular metric that has been bothering me, – is the unit fun? Both to use, and to face off against.
Now this game of ours has a large variety of over-arching design themes that get applied to various races. Here are just some:
Low quality but plentiful
High quality and rare
Fast and fragile
Slow and durable
There are of course dozens more, before you even begin to add variations in exact rule mechanics to each characteristic. As an example lets talk about a tiny teensy slice of mechanics to illustrate how it impacts fun: How to make something durable.
Durable option A) Make it difficult to to initially damage via toughness (See Wraithlord)
Durable option B) Make it difficult to keep damaged (See Necrons)
Durable option C) Make it difficult to damage via armor (See Fateweaver)
Durable option D) Make it capable of ingame growth (See Vampire counts raising)
Now all of these have the same overall design goal – make the unit resilient, but how they interact with actual human beings is widely disparate. Options A, and C, put the decision making in the hands of the enemy. You know that taking down a Wraithlord, or a Fateweaver protected unit is going to difficult, and you know the odds. You make the choice of going after the unit or not.
Options B and D but the drama into the owning player’s side. His enemy knocks the models down, and the owning player gets to stand them back up again with the proper rolls. And that to me, is a very different thing psychologically.
Some players are risky, and like to face the odds, some are cautious and work the numbers out in their heads beforehand. But I’ve always personally found that rule mechanics that “undo” good choices can drain the fun out a game faster than almost anything. To me, if I roll badly when I try to take out that Wraithlord, well its my own damned fault. I made the decision to go after it. But, when 18 out of 20 Necrons stand back up at the start of my opponent’s turn, its disheartening on a much larger scale. A solid choice and good performance in my turn is undone in a method that is utterly out of my control.
I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s something there, and its the type of thing designers need to add to their existing balls to juggle. Sometimes being balanced, just isn’t good enough. In the end I don’t play wargames as a simulation, or because its my job, I play to have a good time.
And I worry about trends that drain that fun out of a perfectly good two hours of my life, standing across a tabletop from a fellow gamer. I think it’s worth asking ourselves what we as humans like doing and dislike doing on the tabletop.
~So, what specific mechanics do you find the most fun in your gaming, and what is the most disheartening. Be honest, you never know who might read this…